‘Gaman’ – The Japanese way of facing hard times’

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3rd July 2024

Life always brings with it the ups and downs, the peaks and valleys.

True character is revealed during both the occasions.

Abraham Lincoln said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power,”

But, adversity too brings out the best in some & the worst in others; some face it with dignity, maturity & self control, while others just break down & stay there or take on extreme behaviour.

I am a great fan of the Japanese way of life, the stoic behaviour and the patience, perseverance & tolerance with which they face most life situations.

‘Gaman’ is the Japanese way of facing adversity that originates from Zen Buddhism. It really means “bearing the seemingly unbearable with patience and dignity.”

It is, therefore, a kind of stoic resistance, although it also requires maintaining self-control and discipline in difficult times to face the storm in the best possible way. Gaman is not weakness or resignation but rather a demonstration of strength in the face of adversity and the suffering that it usually entails.

In 2005, when Hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans, looters took to the streets. Something similar happened in Haiti when it was hit by a powerful earthquake in 2010. In many places, when adversity hits communities and the force of authority cracks, the thin layer of civilization breaks.

Yet Japan steered clear of lawlessness in the days after the magnitude 7.8 earthquake and tsunami that struck Tōhoku in 2011, killing nearly 16,000 people. There were no reports of looting or indiscriminate price gouging. Instead of panic and fear, the prevailing attitude in Japan after the devastating natural disaster seemed to be one of calm and determination.

Shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the United States ordered all Japanese on the West Coast, despite the fact that more than two-thirds were U.S. citizens by birth, to leave their homes and move to ten concentration camps until the end of World War II.

While the Japanese were confined to these gloomy camps, they used scraps and materials they found here and there to make furniture and other objects that allowed them to beautify their surroundings.

In Japanese culture, showing Gaman is considered a sign of maturity and strength. For this reason, this philosophy of life begins to be taught very early to children. Gaman is trained early in life. In Japan, patience & perseverance are part of education from elementary school.

The concept of gaman also implies a high degree of self-control. It demands that we be able to restrain our feelings in order to avoid confrontation. It is not simply a matter of avoiding conflicts with others, but of not fighting uselessly against adversity.

Thus, Gaman would allow us to put up with an unpleasant job until we can find a better one, with an annoying colleague, with crowded trains at rush hour or work overtime on a project when we’d like to relax elsewhere.

Gaman is what allows us to breathe deeply and hold ourselves while maintaining our mental balance during tough times.

Adopt the ‘Gaman’ way of life & stay blessed forever.